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“Many children are forced to leave school”

Ending discrimination, stigma and prejudice is the theme of this year’s World Leprosy Day. A particular focus thereby is on the protection of children who suffer from leprosy, who according to the United Nations continue to be discriminated against in numerous countries.

Early detection is essential for the treatment of leprosy

Every year, more than 200,000 people are diagnosed with leprosy. And those who fall ill with leprosy suffer twice over: “The majority of people affected by leprosy are believed to experience some form of stigma and discrimination. Up to half of them will face mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety,” writes the International Association of Anti-Leprosy Organizations ILEP in a current World Leprosy Day publication.

The most vulnerable group of all are children. “The available data on leprosy-related impairments for children is shamefully high, indicating a failure of the health systems to control leprosy and to protect children from the disease,” said Alice Cruz, a UN human rights expert specialising in the disease, in a statement to mark World Leprosy Day on 27 January.

Social rejection by peers
“There are more than 50 countries in the world that keep in force discriminatory laws against persons affected by leprosy,” she continued. “There are also reports of institutionalised discrimination at the state administration level against children affected by leprosy, especially in education services. Many children are forced to drop out of schooling and face rejection from their peers and communities.” Yet the highest duty of states is the protection of children, commented Cruz. She concluded that “It is shameful and unacceptable that we are failing our children."